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Monday, September 17, 2012

As it is in Heaven

          In the Lord’s Prayer, or the “Our Father,” as some refer to it, we say the words Jesus said.  “Our Father who is in Heaven, Holy be Your name.  Your Kingdom come, Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  Obviously I took out the “thou’s” and “thy’s” and used contemporary pronouns.  When we say it as a prayer, we’ll return to the traditional language. 

          Do we consciously consider that we’re quoting scripture every time we recite this prayer?  We are saying words right out of the Bible, Matthew chapter 6.  Do we realize that it sure seems like this prayer is not being answered?  “Your will be done on earth as it is in Heaven?”  

          This week, the United States ambassador to Libya was violently killed in a mob attack on the U.S. consulate.  He and 4 other Americans along with several Libyans were slaughtered by an unruly mob that was armed with guns and rocket launchers.  The consulate was torched.  Libyan authorities condemned the attack which was thought to be a response to an anti-Muslim film.  Millions of Libyans did not attack the consulate.  It was an isolated incident, but a violent one; an example of chaos run rampant. 

          The news is full of evidence that God’s will is not being done worldwide, not on earth as it is in Heaven.  Isaiah 52 says, “The Lord has shown all nations his mighty strength; now everyone will see the saving power of God” (v.10, CEV).  We believe the prophet’s words were fulfilled in the coming, death and resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus died to save all people from sin, but does the world in fact see the salvation he brings as Isaiah said the world would see it?

          Violence breaks out and it makes the news.  Sometimes it doesn’t.  Sometimes violence and chaos ravage your life, and no reporter is there to tell the story.  No one cares.  You have to deal with it alone and it breaks you.  “Thy will be done …” is God’s will being done in the world?  In our lives?

          Titus, whom we meet only in the letter Paul sent to him and in three other letters of Paul where he described him, had to preach the good news of Jesus in the midst of very real chaos that exists in the world.  Paul commissioned him to go to Crete to “put in order what needs to be done and … appoint elders in every town” (1:5).  However, Titus’ task of being a district administrator over the churches would especially hard in Crete because as Paul writes, quoting a Cretan poet, “Cretens are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons” (1:12).  Furthermore, some among these wild Cretans are Jews or Jewish converts and they are assaulting the church directly.  They are openly opposing the way of Christ and the church of Christ. 

          “Thy will be done on Earth as in Heaven” – Titus is commissioned to oversee the church as the church strives to make sure God’s will is done.  And this assignment is to be accomplished among a dishonest, violent, slothful people that include individuals who will work to stop him. 

          No one opposes our attempts to be church the way Titus was confronted.  No one in Chapel Hill really cares if we all come here to HillSong today and sing praise to God and tell the message that we are sinners and our only hope of life is to turn to Jesus, acknowledge our sin, and receive His forgiveness.  That’s our message and no one cares if we deliver it – here. 

          Try taking the Biblical word heard here and applying it in the places of your life. Friends begin gossiping, and you excuse yourself from the conversation.  Why?  You’re sure that to participate would be to go against Jesus.  His will would not be done.  Your friend tells an off color joke and you don’t laugh.  What’s wrong with you?  You don’t think Jesus would laugh.  If Jesus isn’t tickled by blue language or potty humor, you’ll discipline yourself to not be also. 

Your friend, who is also a Christian, speaks damningly about a mutual acquaintance whose brother had AIDS.  “Would not have happened if he hadn’t been, you know …” says your friend.  You both know the friend’s brother has been a habitual drug user, has been promiscuous, has had many partners.  Because you want God’s will to be done on earth as in Heaven, you don’t join in with the condemning behavior.  You go an sit with the man who’s dying of AIDS.  He doesn’t even know why you come.  You want to tell him it’s because of Jesus, but he doesn’t ask.  And he’s already sworn off the church because he’s been judged so hatefully.  So you pray for him and in Jesus’ name, you sit with him.

But, your efforts alone or my efforts alone are not enough.  We need to band together with others who not only believe as we believe – that Jesus is Lord and true life and joy can only come when we are in him – but also others who will join us and commit to live life based on what we believe.  Oh, and when we do that, when we join with others and come together in this thing called ‘church,’ we’ll find that some of our members have experienced the opposite of God’s will be done in far more dramatic ways than gossip, dirty jokes, or unChristlike judgmental thinking.  When we pool our faith together we also pool our experiences.  Some among us have been hurt in deep ways.  Some have come to Christ, coming out of dark, dark places. 

How will Titus bring us together so that we are a people, a community, who points to Jesus and thus when outsiders come to be with us, they will see Jesus?  Paul has an answer. 

Remind them to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready for every good work, to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show every courtesy to everyone” (1-2).  He commends obedience which is not the same as conformity.  When Paul refused to stop preaching, he was jailed, on many occasions.  He would break the law for the sake of his witness and then accept the consequences.  But he had a spirit of obedience and humility so that when chaos broke out around him, he stayed calmed and focused. 

Here, to Titus, he goes so far as to confess the brokenness of his own life before he came to Christ.  “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, despicable, hating one another” (v.3).  Left to our own devices, human beings will not live in order and will not live on Earth as in Heaven.  The Kingdom of God is the in-breaking of God’s order and is only seen in us together as we commit to live obediently, in an orderly way.  A group of us doing this, living together in a community of humility and love, provides a sign for the world of the Kingdom Jesus brings. 

Paul knows we cannot do this by trying hard.  It begins with Jesus at work in us.  He writes,

“But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of any works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy, through the water of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit. This Spirit he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life” (v.4-7).


Because of what Jesus did for us on the cross and in us in the Holy Spirit, we can be the orderly group Paul is commending to Titus on the island of Crete.  Amidst the liars, brutes, and gluttons, among our gossips, our consumerism, and our self-righteousness, in this church of people from so many places, so many backgrounds, the Holy Spirit will bring calm, order, and the ordered community speaks in a disordered world. 

You’re hurt, but you’ll be loved here.

You’re rejected, but you have a place among us. 

You’re afraid, but God is with you and we will help you see that.

Stepping from the world, from a godless life, into Christ and into His church, should be a move from madness to sanity and from craziness to calm.  We who are already in the church play our part in God’s order by being humble, submitting to one another as it says in Ephesians (5:21), and being committed to the wellbeing of each other. 

Because of the work of Jesus, which Paul summarizes, we can devote ourselves to good works, as he instructs in verse 8.  We can avoid useless controversies and legalistic quarrels as Paul writes in verse 9.  We must remember what Jesus laid down as the standard rules – love God with everything in you, and love your neighbor as yourself. 

The rubber meets the road with Paul’s teaching in verse 10.  As it is rendered in the Message, “Warn a quarrelsome person once or twice, but then be done with him. It’s obvious that such a person is out of line, rebellious against God. By persisting in divisiveness he cuts himself off.”  This is not a declaration of permanent excommunication.  But it is an insistence that order is so important in God’s kingdom that we cannot permit disorder to ruin our effort to show the world what God’s kingdom is like.  If someone has problems that are tearing the whole church and we go to every effort to help, and he won’t receive help, and he won’t repent and turn to Christ, and he continues to raise his problem and try to make his problem the dominant voice in fellowship, then he has to go.  This requires, faith, strength, and love – obedient love for God and God’s church.  We can only go to this extreme measure because Jesus has poured out his Spirit on us richly and has commanded us to be his church announcing his forgiveness and the establishing of His Kingdom.


In Titus chapter 3, the Apostle Paul has set for us order, lived out in love and obedience, as a standard in God’s church.  I said earlier that your nonparticipation in the evil around you is not enough to draw the people to God so that His will is done.  My repentance of sins and my turning to Christ is not enough, by itself, to announce the Kingdom.  I said we have to band together and only as the church will our combined effort be sufficient.  But truthfully, even that is not quite enough because there are 150 of us here, less than 1% of the population of Chapel Hill, not including students, and Chapel Hill is a small town.  We can try really, really hard to live as an ordered, love-filled body of believers, but it won’t change the world, not on our efforts.

And that truly is good news.  Anglican N.T. Wright writes “God’s Kingdom and the kingdom of Heaven mean the same thing, the sovereign rule of God, which according to Jesus was and is breaking into the present world. … The resurrection and ascension of Jesus … are meant to make us agents of transformation of this earth” (Surprised by Hope, p.201).  I think Wright is right in what he writes.  We are called to be agents of transformation, and even more so when we are together as the church, showing what a kingdom-of-God community is than when we act as individuals though individual action is also important and often needed. 

I know I just said alone and even in our combined efforts we can’t accomplish much in announcing the kingdom or changing the world.  We faithfully worship and we give our tithes and we participate in missions, but ambassadors still killed in Libya.  Wars are still fought in Afghanistan.  People still shoot up movie theaters and Sikh temples.  Pastor-types still say stupid, harmful things on their TV ministries.  We do and do as the Spirit has empowered us to do and bad stuff keeps happening. 

We are agents of transformation, not the source.  “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done on Earth as it is in Heaven.”  It is not a mission statement I came up with after a brainstorming session with the pastoral staff.  It is something Jesus taught.  He was teaching the disciples to pray.  In prayer, we’re talking to God.  The in-breaking of the Kingdom is something God accomplishes working through our church, and the Cherokee Christians our youth met this summer, and the believers Starlyn met in South Africa and Laura met in Ukraine.  God accomplishes God’s purposes working through the churches started in penitentiaries led by pastors who came to faith after being convicted and sentenced to life terms.  Yes, in that cesspool of moral decay and death, God is at work in God’s church announcing the Kingdom.  And He’s doing it here.

If the apostle Titus were transported through space and time from 1st century Crete to 21st century Chapel Hill, he would stand before us and tell us that we are called to announce the Kingdom of God and draw lost hurting sinners to Jesus.  We can only do that when we have an ordered, safe community that is humble, full of love, and extremely welcoming.  Titus would rejoice in the words of the great German pastor and theologian who died in a Nazi concentration camp, Dietrich Bonhoeffer. 

He writes, “Life together under the word will remain strong and healthy where … it understands itself” – where we understand ourselves as being part of the one, holy, Christian church which shares actively and passively in the sufferings and struggles and promise of the whole church” (Life Together, 37).  Our part is faith and action, born of faith.  Working through us and churches all over the world, churches like and unlike ours God will raise up the Kingdom on Earth as it is in Heaven.


Wednesday, September 5, 2012

The Irenic Church

The Irenic Church (Ephesians 4:1-3)

Sunday, September 2, 2012


You answer the door to see a tall, thin guy with light brown, neatly brushed full, rich hair, growing down to just about his shoulders.  He could be equally comfortable in a Wall Street suit, a golfing outfit from Nordstrum’s, or in hiking shorts on the Appalachian Trail.  Is he a catalogue model?  The short, perky blond with moon-sized blue eyes stands next to him holding a clipboard.  Is she pledging a sorority?


The catalogue model smiles: “Hello sir.  We hope we aren’t interrupting your day.”

“No, I was just sitting here killing time watching football, hoping you’d come.”  Actually you don’t say that.  You say, “No problem.  How can I help you?”

“Well sir …”  (how does he smile that, and talk at the same time) “… we’re not here to ask you for money  - today.”

  That’s the alarm going off in your head. 

The catalogue model continues.  “We’re here on behalf of drunken former teen pop and tv stars.”

The sorority sister chimes in earnestly.  “Sir did you know that every year, 20 – 5o people who earned millions as child movie and music stars experience extreme public humiliation through inane acts of destruction and stupidity, usually influenced by illegal drug use?”

“No,” you say, shocked.  “I had no idea it was that many.  Usually, when the first story comes on, I turn off the TV.”

“Sir,” she cries out forcefully and passionately, her eyes misting.  “Don’t you watch reality TV?”

Chastened you shake your head no.

“These people were on top of the world.  Most of them by age 10 had over 1,000,000 Twiter followers and 500,000 “likes” on Facebook.”  A tear runs down her check and rests delicately in the dimple that’s alongside her trembling lip.  “By age twelve, they have a top-10 record and a contract for 8 figures for future records.”

The catalogue model, mindful that he hasn’t been heard for almost 60 second BASE jumps into the conversation.  “And then, record producers and agents fix the contracts and make off with 80% of their earnings.  And these young pop icons, too young to know better, …”

“… broken by the deception of those they love and trusted …” the sorority sister pipes.

The catalogue model, irritated by the cheerful but unwanted interruption, continues.  “These child-heroes, so fragile, crack.  It starts with gateway drugs, then gets to the hard stuff …” his voice breaks off.

“And,” now the sorority sister, “They bottom out with 15-minute marriages and embarrassing appearances on cable-channel morning shows.”

You dab your now moistened eyes. 

“Sir,” says the catalogue model, “won’t you help these who have fallen so far.  A small pledge can get them into treatment, and maybe even a spot on celebrity rehab.”

You pledge $50, write the check, and send Ken and Barbie on their way.  As they meander down the street to disturb your neighbors, it hits you.  Your head said, .  The catalogue model said, “We don’t want any money today.” Now, they’re off fleecing you neighbors.  You’re out $50.  You’ve missed the entire second quarter.  And your preschooler has started the kitchen on fire.


            Be “wise as serpents, but gentle as doves,” Jesus said (Matthew 10:16).  Sin has run amuck.  We are in a world of deceivers, users, and people who want to sell us stuff we don’t want to buy. The political pollster wants you to give to a campaign to protect the middle class or preserve America’s freedom.  The guy from the long distance company wants to sell you a plan – something you weren’t shopping for. 

We get edgy.  We live thinking people want to take something from us.  “Answer the trivia and win free movie tickets” the web ad said.  I clicked on it, and ten web pages later I had given them my cell-phone number and my email address.  I had not answered any trivia nor did I receive movie tickets.  Later I got a phone call telling me I had won an mp-3 player (not what I registered for), if I would just send in $4.  Be wise as serpents.  Jesus was right.  Of course. 

Suspicion, creates natural conflict among people.  If I am automatically thinking you are out for something of mine, I have to get past that assumption before we can be true friends.  It’s inevitable.  Conflict is life and life is conflict, and we are suspicious by nature.

            Except that is not how God created us.  When God made the world, he saw that it was good.  Humans, God said, were very good.  Adam and Eve were in relationship without guile and without suspicion.  It was natural to trust and be at peace in a relationship of love.  Adam and Eve were naked and not ashamed.  God did not create us to have be our reaction to the approach of others.  God created us for wholesome, loving, intimate relationships. 

            The sin entered the world and everything fell apart.  Sin stayed.  The world today is fragmented and we accept it.  There is so much noise and finger-pointing.  We shrug our shoulders and say, well, that is how things are.

            Not in God’s view.  Yes, sin brings weapons of mass destruction and the greed of Enron and all the carelessness of British Petroleum and all the debauchery of the French Quarter in New Orleans and the addictive greed of the Strip in Vegas.  Sin yields brokenness in countless ways, but Jesus came to write a different story.  When acknowledge our sin and give receive His full forgiveness, 100% pardon, we enter the new story he’s writing.  We’re rescued from suspicion. We don’t have to be on guard all time, even when Ken and Barbie show up at our doors to fleece us.  We love them without being suckered in by them.

As Jesus writes his new story of the Kingdom of God, he allows us to write chapters of it in our lives, beginning with relationships. 


Some participate with Him, and some don’t.  The church that does not seek God’s Kingdom is irresolute.  Irresolute.  The irresolute church sees that sin has infected all of human life, but either doesn’t care or feels impotent in the face of moral and spiritual decay.

The irresolute church talks getting saved and into Heaven, which is good.  But the irresolute church waves a white flag in the face of the aggressive assault of godless humanism.  It is a do-nothing church.  A friend at a mega-church said she wanted to start an adoption ministry as a response to the orphan crisis.  The pastor said, no, we stick to spiritual matters.  That’s a worldly concern.  Any church that answers the world’s pain by turning its back and pretending to be spiritual is a do-nothing church.  No church can meet every pain that arises.  One fights hunger, another homelessness, another ministers to those in prison and so on.  But not in the do-nothing, irresolute church. 

We sing, “Break my heart for what breaks yours,” wanting to feel Jesus’ love, but not this church.  Stone-faced they sit, happy they are heaven bound.

Paul writes in Ephesians 4:1 he is a prisoner for Christ, jailed because of his words.  The irresolute church does not go to jail or to martyrdom for the sake of Jesus or anything else.  “I beg you to live a life worthy of your calling,” Paul writes from a prison cell, there because of his love for and loyalty to Jesus. 

A few people in the do-nothing churches don’t like the do-nothing attitude.  We don’t like it that suspicion and conflict and pain are accepted as normal.  Sometimes it is the pastor who tenses up when sin is prominently flaunted as the church shrugs indifferent shoulders.  Other times, a worshipper wants to start an adoption ministry and is frustrated as her path is blocked by a do-nothing leader.

Christians who want to break out of spiritual apathy and offer good news and truth to the hucksters and snake-oil salesmen and want to rouse the sleepy irresolutes – these make up the irritated church.  These believers, and you might be one, are ready to meet the world’s pain head-on in the power of the gospel.  These want to answer the call a worthy way.  This is the get mad church.  Frustrated by the hurt sin has inflicted on you or those you love, you want something better.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is where that something better is found. 

The PICTURE OF THE IRRITATED CHRISTIAN clearly shows, he’s not just sitting, resting on his laurels.  He’s ready to stand up for right and truth and love. 
           But, we must be careful.  In our zeal to proclaim the gospel, renounce Satan, combat sin, and draw people into the kingdom of God, we can become judgmental, mean people, as combative and manipulative as the worldly voices we’re striving against. 

The love Paul mentions in Ephesians 4:2 begins in the church.  We cannot allow mean-spirited, selfish, self-promotion into our fellowship.  He says do the work to maintain unity that comes when we are follow the Holy Spirit.  Often we have to give up our own way for the sake of the greater good.  Again, Ephesians 4:2, Paul writes this must be done with all humility, patience, and gentleness. 

The irritated, get-mad approach is fine to get us started in resisting sin and conflict and that suspicion that feels so natural.  Anger spurs us to act in faith.  But, if we don’t pay attention to God’s love, we end up fighting like a couple of hot-blooded polar bears during mating season.  Our hatred of sin gets swallowed by indignation and self-righteousness.  To make sure we don’t become another voice driving lost people away from God, our irritation has to be tempered with the qualities Paul lists – humility, patience, gentleness, love.

When these Holy Spirit-given qualities guide our response to sin and to lazy Christianity, then we’re ready to work with God in announcing the Kingdom of God.  Then we’re the irenic church.  Ah, fun with 10-cent words.

            You probably know what irenic means; I had to look it up to make sure I had the right word.  The dictionary definition: one who is irenic is one who tends to promote peace and reconciliation.  The Greek word for peace, , is used by Paul in Ephesians 2:14 and here in 4:3.  The English word irenic comes from the Greek , peace. 

Paul summarizes the horrible effects of sin in Ephesians 2.  “[We] once were far off [from God] but have been brought near by the blood of Christ.”  Do we fight sin with fists and swords, guns and bombs?  How did Jesus rescue us?  By love and sacrifice, willingly shedding his own blood on the cross.  Ephesians 2:14 says, “He is our peace” our ‘eirenes.’  We who follow him make up the irenic church.  Ephesians 4:3, “make every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

It is the peaceable kingdom.  The peaceable kingdom.  Or we might say,  the reach-out-in-love church. 

In Paul’s day, the biggest problem the church faced was an ethnic split.  Jews and Gentiles had trouble worshipping together.  So they fought – in the church.  What did that fighting do to draw in unbelievers, pagans, Romans, Greeks?  The outside world would look and say, I don’t want to be part of that.

What do we do here to drive people away instead of calling them in?  Is there a certain type of person we consciously or unconsciously reject?  Are we too sleepy?  Are we too ready to fight?  Think of who it is hardest for you to love and resolve to love that one starting right now.  Think of tangible ways you can overcome prejudice in your heart so that you can be an agent of peace within this community of peace, the irenic, reach-out-in-love church. 

There may be people you just don’t associate with because they’re different or you were taught not to like those folks or not to trust them.  You and I, in the power of the Holy Spirit can do our parts to make this church a community of peace built on Jesus Christ who is our peace.  The irenic, reach-out-in-love church challenges the hate and violence in the world with a message of invitation. We don’t put our dukes up and fight.  We offer an alternative story.  Something better.

When we’re done here today, go from this place seeking.  Seek Jesus.  And seek the world’s pain, your own and the pain inflicted by sin that exists all around you.  Then introduce the pain to Jesus.  He’ll take care of it.  And commit to be a giver of grace and to be gentle and patient with people so that this church will be a family of peace and love.

Someone’s at the front door.  Is it catalogue model and sorority pledge here to smile me out of money for a cause I don’t believe in?  Am I suspicious?  No.  They’re in the world, a lost place.  I, one from the irenic church, the community of peace that stands with the prince of peace, am ready to love them and show them His peaceable Kingdom.


Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tell GOOD News

Tis the season for Americans to declare their party affiliation, or for independent voters to hold their noses and vote for the “lesser of two evils.”  The commercials in this campaign have been relentlessly negative.  And there have been side-shows.  Contending for the senate from Missouri, Todd Akin, made horribly insensitive comments about women who get raped.  Ultra conservative religious leader Pat Robertson incited thousands of adoptive parents by saying that children who have abuse in their past grow up “weird” and maybe shouldn’t be adopted. 

            What is a devoted Christ-follower to say amidst all this noise?  I suggest this.  Think of the very best things Jesus has brought into your life.  Maybe you desperately needed to know you were forgiven and in Christ you discovered you are and you are a new person, born again.  Maybe you realized you were living a shallow, materialistic life, and in meeting Jesus, you discovered true meaning and heard a divine call, and now your life has purpose.  The important thing is to answer this out of your story.  What has Jesus introduced into your life?

            Think about that.  Pray about that.  Think about your own story in specifics.  Perfect how you would relate your story of faith in different conversational contexts.  How you share it with the parent of your 12-year-old’s best friend might be different than how and when you share it with your cousin who is, practically speaking, an agnostic.  And how you tell your story to him is going to be different than how you do it with your boss. 

Think about what Jesus has brought into your life. 

Give careful preparation as you think about sharing your story.

            Pray for God to show you opportunities to share it.  Pray that God will let you when and how and with whom you should share.

            In this season of noise, distortions of the truth, and political fighting, tell some good news.  I think that is the mission Jesus has given us.